Corn crops may produce 40 bushels below average

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Despite above-average rainfalls for July, area farmers are still clamoring for rain as the summer-long drought drags on.

Hurricane Dennis drenched Southeast Missouri early last month, but local agriculture officials say the summer has been unusually dry on the whole. A four-member board composed of representatives from agricultural service agencies in the county predicts the drought will adversely affect local crop yields.

The board, which reports local agriculture statistics to the state, estimates this year's corn crop will produce about 100 bushels an acre -- around 40 bushels below average. Soy beans in the county are projected to produce about six bushels below average at 24 bushels per acre.

Terry Birk, who serves on the board and is the county director of the Farm Service Agency in Jackson, said the numbers could fluctuate, depending on the amount of rain that falls between now and harvest time. But if the estimates do come true, farmers of both crops will be hurt.

"It means the farmer is operating at a loss," he said.

The dry weather has similarly affected most other crops across the board, Birk said, including milo, hay and pasture land. However, he said the wheat crop, which was harvested in June, made above-average yields.

But double-crop soy beans -- beans planted in wheat fields after the wheat crop is harvested -- suffered from being planted in the dry conditions. The rain Hurricane Dennis brought in early July helped some, Birk said. Dennis helped all soy beans, Birk said, along with most later planted and irrigated corn. But for some earlier planted corn, the rain was too late.

Gerald Bryan, regional agronomist with University of Missouri Extension Center in Jackson, said the scorching temperatures that followed Dennis' 8.95 inches of rain in July did a lot to offset the rain's benefits.

"High temperatures increase the transpiration out of the plants, and some of them were wilting out there," he said. "And when they're wilting, they're not producing food, not taking in nutrients, not growing."

Bryan estimated the drought has reduced yields for hay and pasture land by half to one-third.

As a result of the dry weather, Missouri's Drought Assessment Committee has issued advisories for 105 of the state's 114 counties. Forty counties, including the whole of Southeast Missouri, are under a drought advisory, meaning the extended lack of rainfall is beginning to cause concern. Thirty-five more counties are under a drought alert, defined by the state as conditions in which plants are showing stress and rainfall has been below normal for several months.

Thirty of the hardest-hit counties are under a drought conservation advisory, meaning landowners should consider conserving water due to extreme shortage, with soil moisture approaching wilting point for plants. So far, no counties are under the most extreme of the four-point alert system, the drought emergency, in which ponds and streams are completely dry, rivers hit record lows and crops are damaged beyond recovery.

Illinois has issued a disaster declaration for 101 counties. On average, the state only received about half of its normal amount of rainfall for the majority of spring and summer.

National Weather Service meteorologist David Blanchard said little hope of rain is in sight for the area. Forecasters are calling for a 30 percent chance of rain on Thursday and a 20 percent chance on Friday for Cape Girardeau. After that, Blanchard said, there's nothing on the radar.

So far the drought has not affected local supplies of drinking water. In Cape Girardeau, water plant production supervisor William Pecord said about 50 percent of the city's water supply comes from groundwater. Despite the drought, he said, the city's two water plant facilities are "maintaining good levels." He said this could be because few farmers around Cape Girardeau irrigate their crops, which can deplete supplies.

Officials with the Jackson Water Department could not be reached for comment.

wmcferron@semissourian.com

335-6611 ext. 127

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